A Dutch court ordered a former businessman to pay approximately $520,000 in civil damages to victims of chemical weapons attacks in Iraq. The businessman, Frans van Anraat, is currently serving a prison sentence for his involvement in war crimes committed by the regime of Saddam Hussein against Iraq’s Kurdish population in the late 1980’s. Numerous lawsuits have sought compensation for injuries allegedly sustained due to chemical weapons. They include claims by Iraqi Kurds and American servicemembers suffering from “Gulf War Syndrome,” allegedly linked to chemical weapons. U.S. law, through the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and other laws, may allow claims in domestic courts for injuries suffered abroad, as addressed in a recent Supreme Court decision.
Van Anraat sold chemicals to the Iraqi regime led by Saddam Hussein in the 1980’s. These chemicals allegedly included thiodiglycol (TDG), a solvent used in a variety of industrial processes and the production of chemical weapons like mustard gas. The Iraqi regime allegedly used chemicals supplied by Van Anraat to produce chemical weapons, which it used on civilian Kurdish populations in 1988, killing about 5,000 people. The Iraqi military also allegedly used mustard gas and other chemical agents on Iranian troops during the Iran-Iraq War, which lasted from 1980 to 1988.
An accident involving two portable trailers resulted in the death of a Connecticut man on Thursday, April 18, 2013, at a construction site in Northampton, Massachusetts. Multiple government agencies are investigating the accident, including local police, Massachusetts State Police, state health regulators, and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Investigators are searching for the cause of the accident as well as any regulatory violations that might have contributed to it.
The accident occurred shortly before 9:40 a.m. Thursday morning, at the construction site for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) building in Northampton. Some details of the accident remain unclear, but media reports indicate that three men were involved in assembling two portable trailers intended for use as temporary office buildings while the DOT’s permanent building was under renovation. The trailers shifted somehow, trapping the three men, who were either inside one of the trailers or between the two trailers. One of the men was able to escape without injury, while another suffered “non-life-threatening injuries,” according to the Associated Press. The second man was taken to a nearby hospital at about 10:00 a.m. The third man, a 56 year-old resident of Bristol, Connecticut, died of the injuries sustained in the accident. Emergency responders were reportedly unable to extract his body from the accident site until 12:30 p.m. All three of the men worked for Trico Welding, which was contracted by the state for the construction job.
A group of five women who were inmates in a county jail in Suffolk County, New York have filed a putative federal class action lawsuit over alleged sexual abuse by a correctional officer. Watts, et al v. County of Suffolk, et al, No. 2:13-cv-01691, complaint (E.D.N.Y., Mar. 28, 2013). They allege that one correctional officer committed multiple acts of sexual harassment and assault against them and other female inmates, and that supervisors either ignored their complaints or threatened retaliation. The lawsuit seeks certification as a class action, compensatory and punitive damages, and other relief.
The plaintiffs were pre-trial detainees at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility, located in Riverhead, New York, during periods of time ranging from April 2009 until April 2011. Two of the five named plaintiffs are still in state custody, and the other three all live on Long Island. According to the complaint, the county assigned male correctional officers, including defendant Sergeant Joseph Foti, to the women’s correctional facility. The plaintiffs allege that Sergeant Foti routinely subjected them, as well as other female inmates, to harassment and abuse, including “offensive sex-based language,…offensive touching and requests for sexual acts.” Complaint at 4. They further claim that supervisors at the facility knew about these incidents from multiple reports by inmates, but failed to investigate the complaints or discipline Foti in any way. The complaint lists individual allegations of harassment or assault by Foti from each of the five plaintiffs, including coerced sexual contact, repeated sexual comments and solicitations, and retaliation in the form of lockdowns and other punishments.
<![CDATA[ The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the federal agency that investigates major transportation-related accidents and makes safety recommendations to state and federal lawmakers, recently reported on its investigations into several train accidents, one involving a collision with an automobile. It concluded that the railroad companies in some cases did not fulfill their duties to maintain their equipment in safe working order. In a fatal collision between two trains, the NTSB found that one train failed to reduce its speed despite several warning signals. In a press release issued on March 8, 2013, the NTSB reported on two train accidents that occurred in 2012. An Amtrak train collided with a car at a railway crossing in Illinois on February 28, 2012. The Associated Press quoted officials who said that the warning lights were not activated at the time, and that the crossing arms had not lowered. The collision killed the automobile’s driver. The NTSB’s investigation concluded that Union Pacific employees, who were performing maintenance on the warning system, had removed it from the crossing for inspection and testing. When the collision occurred, the mechanism for activating the warning lights and the crossing arms was therefore deactivated, and the driver of the automobile had no warning of the approaching train.
Stories of college students who drink too much and end up in the hospital are all too common, and far worse harm can occur due to hazing and other activities, including severe injury and death. Many states, including Connecticut, have laws against hazing on the books, but they typically only provide for criminal penalties. Suits for civil damages against fraternities, colleges, and universities have met with difficulty in recent years, according to a report by Bloomberg. National fraternity organizations and schools have been successful at shifting liability to local chapters and individuals, leaving those injured by hazing with little likelihood of collecting damages.
About seventy-five national fraternities grant charters to local chapters on college campuses in exchange for a portion of dues paid by members. Membership in national fraternities, which exceeded 327,000 in 2011, is almost exclusively male, while membership in sororities is almost entirely female. Fraternities seem to have a far worse track record at member and visitor safety. Bloomberg reports that fifty-two students have died in hazing or other fraternity-related incidents since 2005, and another five students have suffered paralysis. About two-thirds of those incidents involved nine of the largest national fraternities. In lawsuits brought against the national organizations, however, courts have often found the local chapters liable, and dismissed the national fraternities, based on breaches of their charter agreement or violations of drinking age laws.
Rates of fatalities among teenage drivers, specifically those ages sixteen and seventeen, have declined overall during the past thirteen years, according to a recent report from the Governors’ Highway Safety Association (GHSA). The report, which compares preliminary data for the first half of 2012 to data going back to 2000, also shows a recent increase in fatality rates since 2010, although the numbers remain well below the highest rate reached during that time. It stresses the need for graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws and other protections for novice drivers. Connecticut has some of the strongest laws in the country regarding novice drivers, distracted driving, and other issues that may influence teen driving.
The Associated Press reported recently on a cluster of car accidents with teen fatalities around the country that belied the general downward trend. Five teens in the Texas Panhandle were killed during spring break in a collision with a fuel tanker after the teen driver ran a stop sign. Several days later, two pickup truck drivers collided in Indiana after running a four-way stop, killing three. Car crashes in Ohio and Illinois took the lives of ten people total. Despite these recent tragedies, however, the rate of teen driving fatalities nationwide has dropped substantially, before experiencing a slight increase in the past two years.
The AP suggests that GDL laws and other restrictions, such as late-night driving curfews, may account for some of the decade-long improvement in teen driving safety. It also cites researchers who suggest that the internet and other electronic forms of communication have caused teens to make fewer trips by car, since they have less need for “face-to-face visits.” As we have noted on the blog before, however, the use of those electronic communications devices, e.g. cell phones, may also account for increases in the fatality rate.
A jury in a Connecticut federal court awarded a $41.7 million verdict to a woman who, as a student at a Connecticut school, contracted an illness on a school trip to China that left her permanently disabled. Munn, et al v. Hotchkiss School, No. 09-cv-00919 (D. Conn., complaint filed Jun. 11, 2009). The lawsuit alleged that the school negligently failed to protect students from tick bites, the cause of the plaintiff’s illness. The school claimed that it took all reasonable and necessary precautions, and announced that it intends to appeal the verdict.
The plaintiff was a fifteen-year old student at The Hotchkiss School, a boarding school located in Lakeville, Connecticut, when she went on a six-week school trip to China during the summer of 2007. She suffered a tick bite, likely while on a hike in the vicinity of the city of Tianjin. According to court documents, she fell ill about four weeks into the trip, and was diagnosed with tick-borne encephalitis (TBE). Other students were reportedly also infected, but none suffered damages as severe as hers.
“Encephalitis” describes an inflammation of the brain commonly caused by infection. Multiple viral infections can cause encephalitis, including viruses commonly carried by ticks or mosquitoes. Early symptoms can range from a mild fever or headache to seizures and loss of consciousness. Swelling in the brain can damage nerve cells and cause internal bleeding in the brain, possibly resulting in permanent brain damage or death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issue updates and warnings regarding TBE and other illnesses. According to the CDC, TBE is endemic to Eurasia’s temperate areas, which includes Tianjin, and is most common between April and November.
A man who lost his leg when a Connecticut State Police cruiser struck him on a highway has received a substantial jury verdict. The jury reduced the $25 million verdict to $16.2 million based upon a finding of comparative negligence on the part of the plaintiff. Even with this reduction, the verdict may be the largest ever awarded in a lawsuit against the state of Connecticut.
At around 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 29, 2010, the plaintiff ran out of gas and pulled his truck to the shoulder of northbound Route 25 in Bridgeport. He claimed that he could not reach his wife on his cell phone, so he got out of his car and began to cross the highway, intending either to find a gas station or walk home. State Police Office Darren Pavlik was driving his cruiser in the southbound lanes of Route 25 at the same time. Pavlik’s vehicle struck the plaintiff as he was crossing the southbound lanes on foot.
The impact severed the plaintiff’s right leg, which landed in a parking lot across the street, over one hundred feet away. The plaintiff landed on the shoulder of the highway. He suffered brain damage and a crushed pelvis in addition to losing his leg, and injuries to his hands prevent him from grasping anything. According to evidence presented at trial, Pavlik drove to the nearest exit after the collision, re-entered the highway on the other side, and drove around to the crash site. The dashboard camera reportedly shows Pavlik exit his vehicle, inspect his front bumper, and then approach the plaintiff to ask for his name and address. News coverage at the time of the accident said that Pavlik administered first aid until an EMS crew arrived.